Posts Tagged ‘Black Mountain

06
Sep
15

Quick Notes on Robert Creeley

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.

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Robert CreeleyRobert Creeley (1926 – 2005) is an American poet, and usually associated with the Black Mountain poets, a group of high-energy poetry experimenters. Creeley’s poems are unique and hard to mistake for anyone else’s poetry, and his poems tend to be short, minimal, and lyrical. (And they are short enough that I once believed that his poems could be read in the time between two drags of a cigarette – drag, poem, drag (I thought it might be a way he found form that relied on breath, or “projective verse.”)) His poems create or find their own forms. One of Creeley’s most well-known poetic statements is “Form is never more than an extension of content.” This statement, which embraces the open form, is, I think and hope, pointed right at the New Critics and their formalistic ideas on poetry and self-containment.

While reading The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley: 1945-1975 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), I pick up on themes of love (lots of love), loss, isolation, hopelessness, absence, and division, among other abstract ideas. This is not to give the idea that these poems are depressing, which I don’t feel they are. In addition, there are joyful and funny poems, but what I’ve focused on for the most part is division – division between word and the thing it represents, or the want for the lack of division.

To preface this I want to think of Wittgenstein who wondered whether we speak language or it speaks us. (I think it was Wittgenstein.) I think a Modernist poet would say we speak language, as they typically try to use language to impose order or meaning on a world that seems meaningless. The Modernist poet creates “supreme fictions” or “fictive certainties” that he/she hopes will generate a meaningful existence or space to inhabit. The Post-Modernist poet, I think, however believes language speaks us and that language mediates our experiences with the world, especially through its syntactic structures. Robert Creeley (like Charles Olson) provides a third option – a sort of pre-linguistic experience of reality, where word and the thing the word represented were one, where words “are always / with me, / there is never / a separate // place” (“Words” 332), and a place where “words” weren’t worn down into abstraction by “inveterate goodwill!” (“Divisions” 33).

     Divisions

     1


     Order. Order. The bottle contains
     more than water. In this case the form
     is imposed.

     As if the air did not hold me in
     and not let me burst from what may have you or inveterate
     goodwill!

     To make it difficult, to make a sense
     of limit, to call a stop to meandering –
     one could wander here

     in intricacies, unbelted, somewhat sloppy.
     But the questions are, is it all there
     or on some one evening

     will I come again here, most desperate and all questions,
     to find the water all
     leaked out.


     2


     Take it, there are particulars.
     Or consider rock. Consider hardness not as elemental but as
     stone. The stone! And just so
     invincible.

     Which is to say, not a damn thing but
     rock. But, just so, that hardness, which is to say:
     the stone.

     Or if only to consider, don’t.
     Loss exists not as perpetual but, exact, when the attentions
     are cajoled,
     are flattered by their purport or what they purport
     to attend.

     Which remains not, also not, definition.
     But statement. But, very simply, one, just so, not
     attend to
     the business not
     his own.

 

In this ars poetica, part 1 is about the idea of poetic form. (On a side note, I want to note a hypothesis and reminder to myself that post-modern poetry is that which reacts against New Criticism poetry.) If a poem is to use a pre-established form, then it will “limit” the poem in its “meanderings” of experience and exploration. It limits the particulars that can enter a poem. It limits content. For Creeley, the poem, I think, is the experience of watching language and words appear in the moment of composition and expression, as he says in the introduction to Words (1965): “So it is that what I feel, in the world, is the one thing I know myself to be, for that instant. I will never know myself otherwise” (261). That instant, that moment is important because it can’t be repeated (which may be why Creeley did not revise his poems). And if a poet is to write through a pre-existing form, which is a pre-formed lens to view reality or one-size-fits-all container for experience, then the experience and the unique experience of the composition are lost. As a result, the form cannot hold all that could be held, and the reader will “come again here [to the poem], most desperate and all questions, / to find the water [in the preformed bottle of line 2] all / leaked out.” The pre-established form creates division between the limited and the potentially full experience and between the word and what it represents.

In part 2, he is trying to connect words with objects. He is trying to make “hardness” more than abstraction. He’s putting “hardness” into the stone, where it belongs if one wants to experience “hardness,” or even experience “stone.” (He is not abstracting (“pulling out”) the adjectival property of “hardness”; he is performing the reverse action.  So Creeley attempts to de-abstract (or implant) language and get it back closer to the word-object relationship, which is where the real meaning/experience of the word is. For instance, this word-thing relationship locates “loss” much closer to the feeling that “loss” is “perpetual,” and not an “exact” definition “cajoled” into meaning through the habits of use where it loses its original sense, feeling. “Loss” is not an abstract word, a statement, or a fact – as loss is the feeling of the “perpetual” absence.

As another example, to help clarify, there is the poem “A Marriage” (170), where the speaker first tries to define his partner by placing a wedding ring on her finger, thus defining her as bride and wife. In the next stanza, he kisses her, as if to indicate she is something physical to experience, and probably sexually. In the last stanza, he “gave up loving / and lived with her.” That is, he kept trying to impose abstract ideas of love onto her instead of living with her and intimating a bond with “with her,” a bond much akin to the relationship between the word and the thing it represents.

Another place to look at this idea is in one of Creeley’s more well-known poems “I Know a Man” (132).

 

     I Know a Man

     As I sd to my
     friend, because I am
     always talking, – John, I

     sd, which was not his
     name, the darkness sur-
     rounds us, what

     can we do against
     it, or else, shall we &
     why not, buy a goddamn big car,

     drive, he sd, for
     christ’s sake, look
     out where yr going.

 

This poem, on one level, is about the breakdown of language, at time when the speaker encounters emptiness, which is represented in the abstractions he speaks, which underscores a dislocation between the word and the actual, not to mention the self not being immersed in the world. The first language breakdown is with “John,” a name he uses to identify the person who he is speaking to, even John “was not his name.” The speaker in this poem is an “unsure egoist,” a phrase that appears seven poems earlier in “The Immoral Proposition” to indicate a person uncertain of his certainty. The “unsure egoist” in “I Know a Man” is always talking, but as we quickly learn, his words don’t attach to anything (not even “John,” as mentioned), and he gets lost in abstractions. His language has no reference – there’s no intimacy between word and object, like the intimacy between the partners living together. Even “goddamn big car,” a material possession meant to fill a spiritual (and maybe linguistic) void, is abstract, or at least not particular enough – it is general (we don’t even know the make of the car). As a result, the last stanza could be read didactically – the advice the other person in the poem gives is “to do and not think.” In the doing and looking (in poem appearing before the author as it is written), perhaps, is where the connections are made and where the divisions disappear, a place I think Creeley wants to inhabit.

David Perkins provides a good overall summary of Creeley’s poetry:

He [Creeley] retrenched into the small and muted. His poems focused on a metaphor or complex of feeling, which planted itself in the mind. Often the sentences were illogical, elliptical, or suspended in the indefinite; they opened delicate, precisely calculated gaps, so to speak, from which suggestions of meaning were emitted. (505-506)

I don’t really see the ellipticism happening until about 1968 in Pieces, which is maybe why it is titled that and why he so often uses a dot between so many of the stanzas to indicate the ellipsis between thoughts.

I also think he is one of the 20th century’s great poets of love.

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Works Cited

Perkins, David. “Robert Creeley.” A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987. 505-507. Print.

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14
May
13

On Robert Gibbons Olson/Still: Crossroad

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 17, due out in fall 2013.//

Robert Gibbons Olson/Still: Crossroads

What is art and where does it come from? What is its source? These are questions Charles Olson and Clyfford Still pursued around the same time, in different locations, and unaware of what the other was up to while arriving at similar conclusions. It reminds me of Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz arriving at the development of calculus at the same time, in different locations, unaware of what the other was up to, but Olson and Still have a less dramatic story. This story, though very interesting, is told by way of an adventurous, energetic, and original style of study in Robert Gibbons’ Olson/Still: Crossroad (Nine Point Publishing, 2013).

Clyfford Still, if you don’t know as I didn’t know, “was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II” (Clyfford Still Museum).  (Some of his artwork that is mentioned in Olson/Still: Crossroad appears in this post.) Charles Olson, as you probably know, was a significant post-World War II poet, who was involved with Black Mountain and Projective Verse and helped bridge the way between the Moderns and Post-Moderns.

Clyfford Still – 1938-N No.1

Clyfford Still – 1938-N No.1

The book consists of 16 bursts of concentrated thinking. Most bursts are a paragraph or two long and read like short essays or charged notes. Each essay while focused is discursive, or perhaps, it would be better stated that the short essays follow the thoughts of Gibbons thinking. A thinking that pulls in obscure and not so obscure sources from Olson and Still and a few other places and people in a fury of entangled associations. For instance, in “Two Men, Two Letters”:

Olson wrote to Elaine Feinstein in May 1959, “The ‘source’ question is damned interesting…” Then begins to “hammer” the “help archaeology” is, as well as languages of North American Indians, including space-time of Hopi & Northern Californian Yani, driving as far down as Hittite & “the prime-abstract…” Eventually, the poet returns, as if drawing a spiral, or drilling cup-holes in language to Landscape (which he spells large as he had “SPACE… from Folsom Cave to now… Large, and without mercy.”) Here he finds Image & Truth equal to narrative. A month afterward, in June 1959, Clyfford Still writes a letter he refrains from sending, until making it public in Artforum four years later, “The truth is usually hard…,” in this context reminding one of stone, adding, “Dig out the truth and one man is a match for all of them.” (Gibbons 4)

I like to think of those cup holes being connected by a string of some sort, like those cup-strung phones or tin can-strung phones many of us played with as children, but here the cups are language and landscape, but one landscape in the thinking of this book is time. One end of this string is attached to those ancient cave painters in Altamira, for instance, that go back 50,000 years, as Olson has it. And Olson can stand in an ancient artist’s literal footprints to see the art. He can sense the source. Or as he would say:

[T]he mind is so ignobled in  our time (or was) exactly as sex has been, the way both these joys have been turned into mechanics, too, when surely, by our own testings, our own deepest knowledges, loves, these two, the brain and the cock, are what we stand on, more than our legs. (Gibbons 8)

Gibbons would stand in this same spot but would look to the back of the cave and see black (see “1957-D No. 1” below). His standing allows him to see the back of the cave “‘was never a color of death or terror’ […] but ‘warm – and generative’ & that from color, texture, image, ‘wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit’” (11). Olson’s standing also called up “THE GENERATIVE as a focus of attention.” It’s this standing around that leads to a Max Raphael conclusion about the cave artists, “signs… stand for abstract concepts derived from concrete events” (11). In other words, the cave artists anticipate the Symbolists (my conclusion), who were the first to suggest ways at creating art that speaks to or is abstracted from the unconscious – drilling cup holes from the conscious to the unconscious, or drilling cup holes from the self to “the cave of yourself” or as Olson says, to “ethos [which] means the cave of yourself… I mean a cave… It means literally a house inside itself” (20).

Clyfford Still – 1957-D No.1

Clyfford Still – 1957-D No.1

Gibbons has acted as a tour guide through a house in this slender volume. A house with many more rooms than the one I’ve examined. There are rooms with generative sources from stones, from the vertical, from the vortex, etc. It’s a house built by Olson and Still using different overlapping blue prints that Gibbons interpreted for us in his very unique and insightful way.

Olson/Still: Crossroad is a thin house or book, but by the end of this vertical (10.25″ inches tall by 6.25″ inches wide) and slender book, I was surprised by how much I experienced. The experience certainly seemed more expansive than 25 pages can allow, especially when four of the pages are end notes, and I’m still listening.//

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Gibbons, Robert. Olson/Still: Crossroad. Bridgton: Nine Point Publishing, 2013. Print.//

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Clyfford Still – 1950-B

Clyfford Still – 1950-B. (My side note: compare this to Henri Matisse’s “Le Bonheur de Vivre” and then to Wassily Kandinsky’s “Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love)”.)

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Clyfford Still – M-No.2 (PH 776)

Clyfford Still – M-No.2 (PH 776)

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Clyfford Still – PH-998

Clyfford Still – PH-998

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Clyfford Still – PH-1123

Clyfford Still – PH-1123

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05
Feb
13

Leigh Anne Couch’s Houses Fly Away (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.

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Leigh Anne Couch's – Houses Fly AwayOne of the first things I notice about Leigh Anne Couch’s poems in Houses Fly Away (Zone 3 Press), especially in the wonderful anti-war poem “Trains,” is that they are well disciplined and controlled . . . and patient. Often when we hear “disciplined,” we actually hear “intellectual and without emotion” and maybe even hear “formulaic,” but not in this case. Couch is disciplined because she lets emotions evolve. But there’s more: these poems speak to the mind, body, heart, and soul – which is damned rare to find these days. Couch’s poems will affect you in all of those areas, especially the emotional. Or perhaps  I should quote from“Lazarus” to better explain, but when you read “love” read “poem” and you’ll understand what I’m getting at.

   Till now in the airless dark, Lazarus
   had no idea love means
   thick blood in bursting blows
   to the hands, feet, organs,

   and mind – all coming . . . 		
                                                      (ll 1-5)

So, yes, there is some damned good poetry in Houses Fly Away, and if you want to learn craft, there’s a lot to be learned in these pages. She’s got what Pound calls Techne. And here technique draws from all schools of poetry – Deep Image (both styles, à la Robert Kelly and Robert Bly), Black Mountain, Language, Elliptical, etc. – and combines them all for some superb poetry. Enough said.//

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Couch, Anne Leigh. Houses Fly Away. Clarksville, TN: Zone 3 Press, 2007.//

02
Oct
10

Black Mountain North, Today, You, Me, and Energy

Black Mountain North SymposiumWhat I’m learning at this Black Mountain North Symposium are community and energy. Black Mountain College with all its writers, artists, mathematicians, physicists, language teachers, et. al., had community and energy. Well, I knew that, and you probably did, too. What I didn’t know was that the community could even be seen in the school directory. It listed all the students first under the heading Community. Then it listed the faculty, the maintenance people, and the cooks. But there is more to community than that directory. That’s just an example of how unconscious it was.

There is the community of help, as well, and celebration. Back then when a Black  Mountain person produced a journal, like Origin, Jargon, Black Mountain Review, et. al., the journal mattered. The editors actually published writers they believed in. Writers they thought needed recognition. Writers they wanted to celebrate. And, as a result,  those journals had energy rising from passion.

Black Mountain CollegeThe remains of all of that has been gathered by John Roche and put on display here as one entity at the Black Mountain North Symposium at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This conference is not only lectures that celebrate Black Mountain College and some of its writers and artists, such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Jonathan Williams, but the conference also gathers a few people who actually attended Black Mountains College. Students. Students who are now 81 years old. (Martha Rittenhouse who studied with Josef Albers and Charles Olson in 1947-48, Basil King who attended Black Mountain College as a teenager and completed an apprenticeship as an abstract expressionist in San Francisco and New York, and Martha King who attended Black Mountain College in the summer of 1955.) That is an amazing feat, and it will probably be the last time a gathering like this happens.

Oh, and Ed Sanders is here, too. I so want to meet him. I want to tell him the importance of The Fugs to me, especially “The Swinburne Stomp.”

I just haven’t found the right moment. He seems approachable. I did say hi to him, but then wasn’t the time to go any further.

Oh, and Robert Creeley’s wife, Penelope, is also here, despite her good friend and poet Michael Gizzi passing away the other day.

Beauty and the BeastBut as I said, there is more than the lectures. There are those people I just mentioned. The students. The students with their stories. Students telling stories of the past. The past with detail. Stories of the chemistry building burning down, and the students helping to reconstruct it. Stories of farming together. Stories of washing their dishes. Stories of the parties. And stories of the competition to make the best, perfect piece of art. But not a competition with each other, but with themselves. A competition to make something wonderful for class the next day.

I feel sentimental. I miss Black Mountain College, and I’ve never been there. Black Mountain College formed in 1933 and closed in 1957. (For a brief history, go here: http://blackmountaincollege.org/content/view/12/52/.) I’ve even read a lot about Black Mountain College via Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community and Fielding Dawson’s The Black Mountain Book. The former written by a historian; the latter by a student of Black Mountain College, who was also an amazing fiction writer. And I’ve read a ton of Olson, Creeley, Cid Corman, Robert Duncan, Williams, Sanders, et. al. But I never felt like I was at Black Mountain until today. My sentiments feel deep and strong. I’m sad it’s gone. I’m happy for this conference.

I feel like I’m a champion of poetry. I try to champion poetry and poets when and where I can, but I feel I’m not doing it well enough. With not enough integrity. I want to start a press to help poetry more and more poets, but really that won’t help. I need more integrity like the Black Mountain writers. I need a community and energy.

Where is today’s energy and community? Is it in the MFA programs with two- to three-year-long communities? If so, that is not enough. Those communities dissolve fast after graduation but not nearly as fast as the energy.

Energy depends on community. I would like to find or shape a new community. A community of help and celebration and the championing of poetry. Who wants to join? How shall we join? How will we connect? Is the I-90 Manifesto and Poetry Revolution the road to community? Let’s hope so.

Let’s energize.

Let’s make for the altar of imagination some sign, some image complex, some community of energy.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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